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My Take on the Dietary Guidelines

Sharon Palmer

So, the nutrition world was on high alert today, as the US Department of Health and Human Services announced the release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I was invited to the morning media conference, bright and early at 7:30 am my time. Compared to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, the final guidelines were definitely watered down a bit. You can read my initial impression of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report on my blog here. The DGAC report was the culmination of a group of our nation’s best and brightest nutrition experts poring over the scientific evidence in order to make their top recommendations for keeping our population healthy. After that report came out last year, everyone—industry, health experts, and the public—had a chance to comment and campaign before the final Dietary Guidelines came out. The DGAC talked about so many progressive ideas, that I was giddy: sustainability, more plant-based meals, reduced red and processed meat, changing society to support more healthful eating. Some of that disappeared by the time the final guidelines came out today.

So, here’s the down and dirty on the Dietary Guidelines. 

A healthy eating pattern includes:

• A variety of vegetables from all the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy and other. • Fruits, especially whole.
• Grains, at least half of which are whole grains.
• Fat-free or low-fat dairy.
• A variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
• Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits: 

• Saturated fats (consume less than 10% of calories)
• Trans fats (avoid them)
• Added sugars (consume less than 10% of calories)
• Sodium (consume less than 2,300 mg per day)

In addition, they recommended examples for three healthy eating patterns: 

• The Healthy US-Style Eating Pattern
• The Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern
• The Healthy Vegetarian-Style Eating Pattern

At the media conference, attended by some of today’s top papers, magazines, and blogs, most of the questions surrounded meat—what happened to the original suggestion to limit red meat, especially processed meat, which appeared in the DGAC report? What had the meat industry done to hijack that recommendation? I guess, the statement “eating a variety of proteins” is supposed to help people know that they should eat more protein choices besides just meat. And the saturated fat limit should steer people away from eating too much red meat. But how will most people translate reducing saturated fats to their dinner plate? I am disappointed that the guidance is not more clear. The protein choices we make every day make a big impact on human health, as the original DGAC report noted. And of course, sustainability was nixed as not being part of the scope of nutritional guidance—really?

The good news is that    MyPlate, the visual representation of the Dietary Guidelines, still suggests that ¾ of your plate should be filled with plants. And if you read the Dietary Guidelines carefully, you’ll notice that it still supports eating more legumes, soyfoods, nuts, seeds, as well as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—all plants! Not to mention that for the first time ever, the Dietary Guidelines actually calls out a healthy vegetarian diet pattern as a positive example of a diet worth following!

You’re about to be inundated with Dietary Guidelines news, and the rest of the world will likely look at what we are doing when they create their own set of eating suggestions for optimal health. The bottom line: Keep eating those plants for optimal health!


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